NEW YORK — Step-by-step, day-by-day Steven Stamkos inches ever closer to a return to the ice.
But there are still plenty of steps for Stamkos to take as he eyes a return to the lineup at some point before the Olympic break begins on Feb. 9. Stamkos has stated he would like to be back in the Lightning lineup for at least a couple of games in order to participate with Team Canada at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.
He cannot offer a target date, however, even as he continues to join teammates on the ice at various times, testing how far he can push himself just more than two months after breaking his right tibia on Nov. 11.
“Your first five weeks, there’s so much progression that you just expect it to keep going like that,” Stamkos said. “It’s unrealistic to expect that much progression every week, but it’s still progressing.
“I try to do certain movements that bug me and try to keep doing them. And obviously there is still some discomfort in the area, but even when I’m back playing there might be some discomfort in there. It’s just a matter of having to deal with it. Each time I’ve been on the ice, for the most part, I felt better each time.’’
The eight-week X-ray done last week showed things continue to improve as the bone heals. The off-ice workouts have accelerated as he puts more weight on the leg to improve the strength.
But there still are certain movements he can’t comfortably perform on the ice.
“It’s obviously the torquing and knowing when all that weight is on your leg and you’re turning, like that is the stuff that bothers me the most,’’ Stamkos said. “But it’s a pass (on the ice) that’s a little bit in front and I make a sudden movement, stuff like that obviously I’m not at a point where I’m one-hundred percent comfortable with that right now. But it’s getting better and I’m feeling stronger. And off the ice it’s even more of a progression working out and stuff like that.’’
D Victor Hedman and RW Nikita Kucherov scored goals nine seconds apart in the second period to tie the franchise mark for quickest two goals in team history. Hedman scored on a slap shot for a power play goal at 1:10 and off the ensuing faceoff, D Radko Gudas hit Kucherov with a perfect pass up the middle for a breakaway goal at 1:19.
The previous mark was sent on Jan. 9, 2004, when Dave Andreychuk and Fredrik Modin scored nine seconds apart during the third period of a 4-1 win at New Jersey.
Monday’s game in Columbus began a stretch of five games in seven days, which includes a pair of back-to-back games. Tuesday’s game in New York marked the end of what essentially was an eight-game road trip as Tampa Bay played eight games in eight cities in a span of 14 days — including one in Tampa.
The stretch can be taxing, but head coach Jon Cooper has tried to manage things by building in time away from the rink.
“Rest is a weapon, that’s about all you can do,’’ Cooper said. “You want to try to get everyone in the lineup, hopefully rotate your goalies a little bit. You have to look at the fact that you play so many games in a short amount of time, but also have to think what is the best chance for us to win a game tonight.
“Every team goes through it. I suppose you look at it and try to plan around it, but you can’t worry about it. You just manage your team, and we have some extra bodies right now, so hopefully you can get guys in during this little stretch.’’
Nuts and Bolts
C Nate Thompson was scratched with the flu. ... LW B.J. Crombeen and D Sami Salo (ankle) were also scratched. ... C Tom Pyatt and RW Richard Panik returned to the lineup. ... D Eric Brewer wore the second “A’’ as alternate captain with Thompson out. ... Tampa Bay has scored a power play goal in nine of the past 13 games.